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December 14, 2007
Today's eMo is really two different meditations on texts that will be heard in many churches this Sunday. The first is the usual sermon preparation eMo. The second, intended for preachers who wish to focus their congregations' attention on the Church's work with the victims of natural disasters and war, considers some aspect of the worldwide ministry of Episcopal Relief and Development. As with all the eMos, preachers and teachers are welcome to borrow, with the usual attribution. No further permission is necessary.


Earn This!

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?"
Matthew 11:2

It's like that scene in "Saving Private Ryan," said a colleague. He was a Marine for thirty years before he became a priest. We were sitting with others, discussing how we would preach on these lessons for the Advent season. You know the one? When Ryan's an old man now, and he and his wife visit the military cemetery in Normandy? And he asks if he's been a good man?

In the script: Have I led a good life? Have I been a good man?

Earn this!
is what Tom Hanks' character in the film says as he lies dying, the last of the band assigned to Ryan's protection to give his life to that mission. Let your life be a life that will make this sacrifice worthwhile. It was too soon, at the end of the war, to know if it would be. It was an assignment, not a promise: If I must give my life for you, let it not be for nothing.

John the Baptist is like Hanks' character. He lies in prison, and he knows he's going to die. His young life has been spent on one mission: preaching the Messiah. And now he wants a promise: Tell me that I didn't give my life for nothing. Are you the one who is to come? Or are we to wait for another?

Noticed that Jesus doesn't settle things. He doesn't make it easy. He doesn't say, Yup, I'm the Messiah, all right. He continues to ask John to do the work of discerning his own life: Well, what do you see? The lame walk and the blind see. You may have reached the end of your life, but you still have the power to see things as they are, and you will have that power, right up to and including the last moment you can see at all.

Into life we go, from youth to age, gifted with the power to make of our lives what we can. Many things fall into them that are not of our making, but our response to all that comes into our lives? That is ours alone.

At the end of a calendar year, we are apt sum things up: the best this, the worst that. We sum ourselves up, too, some of us: Am I on the right track? Have I made good use of the gift of life this year? I didn't earn the gift of life -- I just arrived. But have I used it well? Have I led a good life? It's almost gone, this short year. And this short life is almost gone, too, really, for all of us. Now that it is almost over, I must know: Did I use it well?

It's never too late to ask the question. And it's still not too late to change the answer.
"Saving Private Ryan" is painful to watch, but people who lived through it say it's true to what the Second World War was like. percent20private percent20ryan&results-process=default&dispatch=search/ref=pd_sl_aw_tops-1_dvd_35854169_1&results-process=default. The DVD of Ken Burns' excellent documentary film "The War" is also just out:

Isaiah 35:1-10
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11:2-11
Psalm 146:4-9
or Canticle 3
or Canticle 15

And here is the ERD meditation:

The Desert Blooms

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. --Isaiah 35:1

Ice every where yesterday and today: encasing what's left of the leaves, bending thick branches right to the ground and snapping them like twigs. It encases the power lines, too, and the electricity goes down. Floods in the Pacific Northwest: high winds and rain overflowed the backs of small rivers and creeks and turned them dangerous. Homes and businesses and farms have been destroyed. Eight people died. And the anniversary of the Indian Ocean tsunami approaches.

Human beings are so vulnerable to nature. We are small, in comparison to the forces of nature, and we are not without power for long before we understand afresh just how small.

In the Pacific Northwest emergency, Episcopal Relief and Development supports the local church that must turn suddenly into an emergency center, supporting people who are accustomed to light and heat at the flick of a switch. And in ongoing work throughout the world, ERD accompanies the lengthy task of supporting the development of communities where nobody has ever had an electric light.

Those communities are probably wiser about managing without things than we are: they are accustomed to it. They already know a lot about wresting a living from a harsh environment. But even people accustomed to hard times can be overwhelmed: hard times are one thing. Disaster is another.

Here is a picture from an ancient prophet: the desert in bloom. Plants growing in a hard place. Things will not be disastrous forever. Friends are on the way; indeed, they are already here, in spirit and in support.

For more information about ERD's emergency work, or to make a donation, visit or telephone 1-800-334-7626, ext 5129.
New in the bookstore: Episcopal Haiku by Sarah Goodyear and Ed Weissman, Our rituals and foibles, character and characters, beauty and liturgy - seventeen syllables at a time! Small enough to fit in a stocking, and only ten bucks.

Stand, sit, kneel, stand, kneel:
It's quite a good workout for
a Sunday morning.

The choir rehearses.
A soprano fails to curb
her inner diva.

Visit and click on "bookstore."
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